Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dance on 'benefits scrounger'

Predictably, the new UK ConDem government has announced the launch of a new crackdown on benefits claimants, including using private credit checking companies to snoop on the financial affairs of the sick and unemployed. Yes that's right, after pouring billions of pounds into propping up failing banks the state is going after the poorest people in the country to make them pay for it.

BBC News, the Daily Mail and others have been obediently highlighting the following clip as an example of 'benefits scrounging' - film of a man dancing whilst claiming Disability Living Allowance. Personally I think the guy's a bit of a hero, as well as a sharp dancer. Like most people bending the benefit rules to their advantage, he was just trying to get by - getting a few quid extra, but hardly getting rich at anybody else's expense.

As the court report makes clear (see below), he spent years virtually crippled with arthritis before an operation finally enabled him to have an active life, an opportunity he grasped by taking up dancing. He has spread his enthusiasm to care homes. In short he seems to have led a far more socially useful life than many other people who have got rich at other people's expense - and who don't get prosecuted or publicly denounced as a 'scrounger'. Dance on dude!

'Dancer spared jail over benefits fraud (Independent 4 August 2010)

A 61-year-old jazz dancer who fraudulently claimed nearly £20,000 in disability benefits walked free from court today. Terence Read said he was crippled by arthritis and barely able to walk but his condition improved following a hip replacement operation.

He failed to notify the change in his circumstances to the Department for Work and Pensions and officials later covertly filmed him dancing enthusiastically at a swing music night after receiving an anonymous tip-off that he was wrongly claiming Disability Living Allowance. Read, of Blackley, Manchester, was caught on camera gliding across the dancefloor and spinning his dance partner around while being cheered on by crowds of onlookers at an event in his home city.

Sentencing Read at Manchester Crown Court, Judge Rudland told him that in his case public interest was not served by imposing a custodial sentence. He was given a 12-month community order and ordered to complete 120 hours of unpaid work.

The court heard that Read had legitimately claimed for benefits for 10 years from March 1995. He suffered arthritis from the age of 25 and in the early 1990s he was virtually housebound. However, the operation on his left leg provided "instant relief" and proved such a success he was able to take an interest in his new hobby. He illegally continued to claim Disability Living Allowance between June 2005 and December 2008 to the tune of £19,915.

Judge Rudland told him: "You learned to live frugally and contentedly, going out rarely, until the dancing came into your life, which seemed to transform your joie de vivre. There is absolutely no suggestion you are a shirker who has avoided work. It is agreed that the sad fact is you were afflicted by arthritis from as young an age as 25 when most people are enjoying life with an abundance of vigour. In your mid to late 40s you were assessed as being eligible for the appropriate benefits. A time came when you undertook a hip replacement operation which had a significant impact on your mobility. Your life opened up because of the dancing and interest in the swing music of the '40s, which has a considerable following, and you became an accomplished performer on public display. I suspect over time the claim being made went to the back of your mind and it was something you took for granted. Your case was genuine at the start and then drifted into dishonesty. It is not in the public interest that you should be deprived of your liberty. You are doing good work by taking the activity (swing music) into care homes, that brings some pleasure and therapy into lives as a result of the commitment you make in that way."

...David James, defending, said his client is still affected by arthritis and before the operation had essentially been unable to move his left leg. He said the dance evenings were not a weekly event and Read went through the pain barrier as he suffered discomfort in the following days. "He is a proud man who has been humbled by his fallibility," he said. "His past was not a life, it was more of an existence"'.

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